A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.
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Economic Development 1791–1835
In the last years of the 18th century a new spirit of enterprise, that would eventually transform Gloucester's economic fortunes, became evident. The most important potential development was the scheme for a canal to carry seagoing vessels past the most difficult stretch of the Severn. A plan was advanced in 1783 to link Gloucester with the Stroudwater canal, opened between Stroud and the river at Framilode in 1779, but it was given up when the new county gaol was built on the site planned for the terminus. A new scheme, for a canal between Gloucester and the river at Berkeley, was promoted from 1792 and an Act of Parliament was acquired the following year. (fn. 1) The scheme had strong local backing, with about 50 Gloucester men among the 129 original shareholders. Shareholders who stood to benefit directly from the canal included the leading wine merchants, the timber merchant William Price, and the wharfinger and ironmonger John Coles; it was also strongly supported by the city's bankers. Most of the other support came from places in the West Midlands which relied on the Severn navigation: among the 15 principal shareholders were the Shropshire ironmasters William Reynolds and John Wilkinson, members of the Skey family of merchants and bankers in Bewdley and Upton upon Severn (both Worcs.), William Russell, a former Birmingham merchant living near Gloucester, and men of Birmingham, Worcester, and Stourport (Worcs.). (fn. 2) In the event few of the original shareholders lived to see the canal completed; work began in 1794 but ceased in 1799 with only the basin and a few miles of the north end dug. (fn. 3)
In 1791, however, a direct overseas trade was opened up by way of the river when a brig with a cargo of Portuguese wine managed to sail up to the quay, where it received an enthusiastic welcome. (fn. 4) Regular voyages to Spain and Portugal to bring back wine, lemons, and cork were begun by two firms of merchants, which acquired their own vessels for the purpose; (fn. 5) one firm was that of Abraham Saunders (d. 1793) and his sons Abraham and David Arthur Saunders, and the other was formed by John Cooke, Edmund Stock, and Benjamin Sadler. (fn. 6) In 1820 the first cargo of French brandy brought direct to the quay was landed. (fn. 7) The direct foreign trade remained, however, subject to many difficulties, as was demonstrated in 1818 when a cargo of timber was delayed in the river for two weeks. (fn. 8) The timber trade, which was continued by William Price (d. 1815) and his son William (fn. 9) and by William Prosser, (fn. 10) was still carried on mainly through the creeks and Chepstow. (fn. 11)
Another development in waterborne commerce was the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire canal, which was promoted in 1789 and an Act acquired in 1791. (fn. 12) The scheme had the support of the city corporation, which paid part of the cost of the survey, (fn. 13) and a few Gloucester men, including William Price and Edmund Stock, were among the original shareholders, though the great majority was from Herefordshire. (fn. 14) The canal was begun at Gloucester and reached Newent in 1795 and Ledbury in 1798. It raised hopes for a trade in coal from the Newent coalfield (fn. 15) and that Gloucester might replace Worcester as the chief market for fruit in the region, (fn. 16) but those hopes were not realized and the canal had little relevance for Gloucester's economic development. The stretch across Alney Island between the two branches of the Severn, providing a direct connexion with the quay, was soon abandoned and allowed to silt up. (fn. 17)
Although work on the Gloucester and Berkeley canal was suspended for many years, plans for completing it were continually discussed and helped to encourage new enterprise in the city. (fn. 18) Interest was seriously revived after 1811 when a horse tramroad was opened from Cheltenham to Gloucester, connecting with the quay and the new canal basin, and the basin was opened to the river in 1812. (fn. 19) In the following years John Upton, the clerk to the canal company, and a shareholder Mark Pearman of Coventry promoted efforts to restart work on the canal. David Arthur Saunders and the barrister John Phillpotts were among leading Gloucester men to give active support. (fn. 20) Digging finally began again in 1817, (fn. 21) and from the next year was financed in part by a loan from the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners. In 1820 the junction with the Stroudwater canal was made, enabling some vessels to enter the basin from the canal, but financial problems led to a further suspension of the works between 1820 and 1823. (fn. 22)
Meanwhile a considerable trade by river and coasting vessels continued at the quay and the basin. Coal began to come to Gloucester in large quantities from the Forest of Dean coalfield (fn. 23) after that was opened up in 1809–10 by the building of tramroads and docks at Bullo Pill and Lydney. (fn. 24) The traditional sources of supply from Staffordshire, Shropshire, and South Wales continued. (fn. 25) In 1822 10 coal merchants had yards at the basin, while others were based at or near the quay. (fn. 26) Mainly to accommodate that trade the canal company built a barge dock in 1825 with a series of coalyards connected to sidings of the Gloucester and Cheltenham tramroad. (fn. 27) The carriage of coal to Cheltenham was the main function of the tramroad and it also took there much roadstone, brought up river from Bristol. It brought to Gloucester building stone from the Leckhampton quarries and agricultural produce. (fn. 28) As Gloucester (and Cheltenham) expanded, building materials bulked large in the trade at the basin and quay. Welsh slate (an item recorded in Gloucester's trade from 1791), (fn. 29) Forest of Dean paving stones, (fn. 30) Stourbridge bricks, Broseley tiles, and 'Roman cement' (fn. 31) were landed. The carriage of imported goods from Bristol still employed at least one or two Gloucester trow owners, (fn. 32) and the trade in copper from South Wales also continued. (fn. 33) Leonard Darke (d. 1811) made direct sailings between Gloucester and Swansea in a small schooner, designed specifically to negotiate the shallows of the Severn estuary. (fn. 34) There was also a regular connexion by trow with Stroud, which had been instituted in 1779 with the opening of the Stroudwater canal. (fn. 35)
In 1825 a writer predicted that the day when the Gloucester and Berkeley canal was completed would be the most important in the city's history, (fn. 36) and when that day came, on 26 April 1827, it was marked with appropriate festivity. A convoy of vessels, decorated with flags and streamers and led by a large square-rigged ship and a brig, came up the canal while crowds lined the banks. (fn. 37) The canal, which could take ships of up to 600 tons, (fn. 38) gave Gloucester a role as a supplier of imported goods to Birmingham and a large area of the West Midlands. (fn. 39) Its effect on Gloucester's foreign trade was immediate and dramatic and a rapid growth in trade continued until the mid 1830s (Table VI).
|Table VI: Customs receipts for the port of Gloucester|
|Source: Power's Glouc. Handbk. (1848), 66.|
The number of ships using the canal was 4,272 in 1828 and 7,576 in 1832. (fn. 40) Corn, imported almost entirely from Ireland, rapidly became established as one of the principal imports. (fn. 41) In the late 1820s and early 1830s the first of the large brick warehouses for corn were built at the basin, where Joseph and Charles Sturge of Birmingham and George Lucy & Co. were among the earliest corn merchants. (fn. 42) Timber from Canada and the Baltic was the other chief import. William Price, who was by then in partnership with William Tupsley Washbourne, and the firm of Maurice and James Shipton of Birmingham had premises at the basin from 1827 and a third firm of timber importers had joined them there by 1830. (fn. 43) The established trade in wine and fruit from Spain and Portugal also continued. There were relatively few foreign exports, with Droitwich salt the only consistent item. In the coasting trade slate from Portmadoc (Caern.) and other Welsh ports became the most regular cargo landed at the basin, and the South Wales copper trade was continued, mainly by Brown & Sons. In 1827 a partnership including William Kendall, a prominent Gloucester wharfinger, instituted a regular service by brigs to London, (fn. 44) and vessels also came regularly with wool and corn from Bridgwater (Som.). The city already had a substantial group of merchants by 1831 when they formed the Gloucester Commercial Rooms, a society for promoting the trade of the port. (fn. 45)
Gloucester's economy also benefited from the continuing improvement of the roads. One new turnpike route out of the city, that through Whaddon and Pitchcombe to Stroud, was established in 1818, (fn. 46) and many other improvements were made by the local trusts during the 1820s. Two of the new ventures, however, the building of bridges over the Severn at the Haw in 1825 and at the Mythe, at Tewkesbury, in 1826, threatened Gloucester's historic control of the routes to Hereford and South Wales; (fn. 47) in 1827 the city corporation campaigned strongly against plans by the Post Office to transfer the direct mail route to Hereford and Brecon to the Mythe bridge road. (fn. 48) The new routes across the Severn benefited Cheltenham, (fn. 49) which had already begun to rival Gloucester as a centre for road transport. By the beginning of the century some of the London coaches from Gloucester were being routed through Cheltenham. (fn. 50) By 1822 Cheltenham coach operators were running more services than those of Gloucester, though Gloucester was still a greater centre for the carrying trade. (fn. 51)
In the 1790s the principal Gloucester coach offices were the Bell inn and the lower Northgate Street coach office, where the Paine family was succeeded by Heath & Co. (fn. 52) In 1802 the Bell horsed both the London mail and the Bristol and Birmingham mail on the other mail route that came through Gloucester, while Heath & Co. horsed the Welsh mail and ran another London coach. (fn. 53) In the following years, in a climate of increasing rivalry among Gloucester operators, the Boothall inn, under John Spencer, emerged as one of the principal coach offices and posting houses. (fn. 54) Spencer's London coach acquired a reputation for providing Gloucester with the latest news, bringing word of the battle of Waterloo five hours before the mail. (fn. 55) The journey to London had by then been cut to 15 hours. (fn. 56) In 1822 five establishments, the Bell, Heath's office which then had the contract for the London and Welsh mails, the Boothall, the Ram, and the Lower George, were running coaches. Of the 37 services, most of them running daily, London accounted for 7 and there were others to Bristol, Bath, Birmingham, Coventry, and towns in South Wales as far as Milford Haven; there were 5 local coaches to Cheltenham. (fn. 57) In the late 1820s it was said that nearly 100 coaches a day passed through the city. (fn. 58)
The main London carrying business, that of the Heane family, (fn. 59) was taken over in 1817 by the Rodborough firm of Tanner and Baylis, which began fast fly-wagons to the capital. (fn. 60) In 1819 the firm also absorbed a carrying business formerly run by John Spencer of the Boothall. (fn. 61) In 1822, apart from the main services to London, Bath, Bristol, and Hereford, local carriers connected Gloucester to 24 market towns and villages in north Gloucestershire and adjoining counties, (fn. 62) an indication that the city's economic links with its traditional region remained as strong as ever.
The local market trade was one aspect of the economy to benefit from the improvement of the roads. The city's market area expanded at the expense of some of the lesser local markets, particularly that at Newent. (fn. 63) The markets for produce and for livestock, for which a large new market was opened in 1823, became an important source of revenue for the city corporation during the period. (fn. 64)
A number of attempts were made to establish new industry in the city, but some, before the completion of the canal, were unsuccessful. Sugar refining was reestablished in the Island by Henry Ercks before 1799, when his premises were devastated by fire. In 1801 Ercks found new partners but the partnership was dissolved the following year and he was later declared bankrupt. (fn. 65) In 1808 a brewery for porter and strong beer was built on the site of the sugar house. (fn. 66) It was for sale in 1812 and again in 1814 (fn. 67) and had apparently closed by 1822, though there were then two other breweries in operation (fn. 68) and the city still had an extensive malting industry, carried on in 21 premises. (fn. 69) A steam flour mill, established by a group of shareholders c. 1801, was another short-lived venture. (fn. 70) More successful was an iron foundry started in the Island in 1802 by William Montague, (fn. 71) who had earlier been a partner in John Coles's ironmongery business. (fn. 72) In the late 1820s the foundry was producing castings of a high quality, using Forest of Dean iron from works at Cinderford and Parkend in which Montague had an interest. (fn. 73) He also continued to trade as a wholesale ironmonger in partnership with Charles Church. (fn. 74)
A new industry directly stimulated by the growth of waterborne commerce was shipbuilding. A yard opened at the canal basin in 1814 and in that year launched a 113-ton brig, the first vessel bigger than a Severn trow built at Gloucester within living memory. (fn. 75) The venture was apparently short lived but after the opening of the canal shipbuilding was resumed at the basin by William Hunt, who built small schooners. In 1818 John Bird of Stourport built a dry dock at the basin and subsequently he built Severn trows there as well as repairing craft. (fn. 76) By 1822 Edward Hipwood, also from Stourport, had opened a yard building small craft by the river at Westgate bridge. (fn. 77) Two sailmakers were in business at the quay in 1830. (fn. 78)
Of the old industries, pinmaking maintained its strength in the late 18th century, and in 1802 there were 11 firms, employing 1,500 people in the city and adjoining parts of the county; (fn. 79) the outworkers, who headed and packed the pins, included inmates of parish workhouses. (fn. 80) Over the next two decades the industry suffered a recession. At least four firms went bankrupt, including in 1817 the former Weaver & Jefferies firm carried on by Edward and Charles Weaver, (fn. 81) and other firms gave up trading. Only four remained in 1822 (fn. 82) and only three in 1833 when they employed c. 330 people, excluding outworkers. (fn. 83) The surviving firms, which enjoyed a recovery in the trade in the 1820s, maintained warehouses in London where the large department stores were their main customers; from 1827 they operated a price-fixing ring for the London trade. In the early 1830s one of the firms, Hall, English, & Co., experimented with new machinery but the main breakthrough in mechanization was achieved in other centres than Gloucester. (fn. 84) Woolstapling suffered an earlier and more rapid decline, and by 1802 only four woolstaplers and two woolcombers remained in business in the city. (fn. 85) The industry survived at a reduced level, with five firms operating in 1830. (fn. 86)
In the late 1820s the loss of employment caused by the decline of the two main industries was said to have been made up to some extent by the growth of the rope and sackmaking trade, then carried on extensively by Luke Church's son Charles in partnership with James Taylor. (fn. 87) In 1833, however, the largest of the three firms in business, William Brimmell's, employed only 22 people on the premises. (fn. 88) Brushmaking was carried on by five firms, including that of Alderman Samuel Jones, in the 1820s, (fn. 89) and William Cox's edgetool making business was continued by his son-in-law James Buchanan. (fn. 90) Animal skins were dressed at a number of sites, (fn. 91) including one established since the mid 18th century by the Twyver at the north end of Hare Lane. (fn. 92) Higher up the Twyver a large new tannery was built c. 1811 behind the Black Dog inn in lower Northgate Street; the owner was bankrupted in 1816 (fn. 93) but it was apparently one of the two tanneries working in the city in 1830. (fn. 94) The bell foundry was carried on by John Rudhall, who survived bankruptcy c. 1814 (fn. 95) and died in 1835; his business was continued by Thomas Mears & Co. of the Whitechapel foundry. (fn. 96)
The expansion of the city that followed the Napoleonic Wars benefited the building trade, with men like William Hicks, (fn. 97) Henry Edwards, (fn. 98) and James Dewey (fn. 99) playing a leading role. In 1822, when the boom was at its peak, the city had 16 building firms. (fn. 100) Leading Gloucester architects of the period were John Wheeler (d. 1817), John Collingwood (d. 1831), and Thomas Fulljames, who all served successively as county surveyor. (fn. 101) Fulljames was the nephew of Thomas Fulljames (d. 1847) of Hasfield Court (fn. 102) who practised as a land surveyor in the city from c. 1797 and was commissioner for numerous Gloucestershire inclosure Acts. (fn. 103) Another Gloucester surveyor Elisha Farmer Sadler, who was much employed by the corporation in the 1820s, became an alderman in 1834. (fn. 104) Lawyers and surgeons were numerous and influential. In 1802 the city had 19 legal firms and 16 medical men. (fn. 105) The two professions accounted for a third of all new aldermen between 1800 and 1835, when the retiring bench included four surgeons. (fn. 106)
The economic development of the city and surrounding region enhanced Gloucester's role as a banking centre. Of the four banks, the Nibletts' Old Bank was carried on from the mid 1790s by the partnership of James Jelf, the barrister William Fendall (d. 1813), and the attorney Charles Evans; (fn. 107) John Turner carried on his bank in partnership with members of the Jeynes and Morris families; (fn. 108) Merrot Stephens (d. 1815) was succeeded by John Merrot Stephens; (fn. 109) and the bank of Richard Wood (d. 1792) passed to his son James ('Jemmy') Wood, (fn. 110) whose eccentricity, miserliness, and immense wealth made him one of the most celebrated Gloucester men of the period. (fn. 111) The bankers were prominent on the city corporation, including two aldermen and eight councillors in 1810, (fn. 112) and many of them owned land in the surrounding countryside. Samuel Niblett's purchase of estates at Haresfield and Colethrop established his descendants as prominent local landowners. (fn. 113) Charles Evans, before entering banking, had become a landowner by his marriage to the daughter of the former city M.P. Charles Barrow of Highgrove, Minsterworth, (fn. 114) and his partner William Fendall acquired an estate at Much Marcle (Herefs.). (fn. 115) The Morrises owned the Barnwood Court estate (fn. 116) and James Wood became a major landowner in Westbury-on-Severn in 1825 on the death of his cousin, the Gloucester ironmonger Anthony Ellis. (fn. 117)
The banking crisis of 1815 caused the failure of the Old Bank, which was thought to have been weakened by the involvement of Fendall and Jelf in the Bullo Pill tramroad and an abortive plan for a Severn tunnel at Newnham. (fn. 118) John Merrot Stephens failed later the same year. (fn. 119) A new bank was formed before 1820 (fn. 120) by the solicitor Robert Pleydell Wilton, Thomas Washbourne, and Thomas Russell (later Russell and Skey), (fn. 121) but the next financial crisis, in 1825, closed the bank of Turner and Morris, an extensive business which included a branch in Cheltenham. (fn. 122) In the measures taken following the second banking crisis, one of the four new provincial branches of the Bank of England was opened at Gloucester in 1826. (fn. 123) The business of Russell and Skey was absorbed into the Gloucestershire Banking Co., an early joint-stock bank formed in 1831, (fn. 124) and in 1834 the National Provincial Bank opened a branch, its first in the provinces, at Gloucester. (fn. 125)
At the close of the period, despite some new industrial ventures and the beginning of the growth of the docks, Gloucester's economy was still dominated by its traditional role of distributing goods and providing services to its region. Its manufactures (though it was those that contemporary writers noted) remained a very small sector. In an analysis of the employment of adult males (over 20 years old) made in 1831 the two main industries, pinmaking and ropemaking, employed respectively c. 70 and 37; tanning employed 12, brushmaking 11, boatbuilding 8, ironfounding 8, brewing 7, and bellfounding 3. Most adult males worked as small craftsmen or in service and retail trades: they included 331 shoemakers, tailors, and other clothing makers, 295 in the bulding trades, 171 sellers of food and drink, 149 shopkeepers and other retailers, 87 smiths and other metal workers, 84 keepers of public houses, and 56 in road transport. A total of 1,663 adult males in the city was employed in manufacture, retailing, and handicrafts; another 731 were unskilled labourers; and 260 were classed as capitalists, bankers, and professional men. (fn. 126)